Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Attlee: My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Redesdale, raised some interesting points. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

However, the scheme is an experiment and it might work. But there is unnecessary concern about large numbers of redundant MoD policemen. The majority

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1385

should be able to move to the Home Office police forces. But, again, the scheme might not work. The noble Lords have drawn attention to difficulties. One aspect that concerns me is the difficulty of arrest procedure. Servicemen have very limited powers of arrest even within MoD property, whereas an MoD policeman has extensive powers of arrest, in particular outside the base. The scheme is an interesting experiment. It might work. It might give us cost savings. However, again it might not, and it might be appropriate quietly to drop the proposal.

As regards the amendment, it might be better to adopt the negative procedure. If we find that the scheme is working well, we need not take action. However, if we find that it is not working well and we experience one or two disasters, we can bring the issue up at the appropriate time. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

8.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Redesdale, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on their gallant persistence in pursuing matters. However, I am disappointed that the reassurances that I gave in Committee have apparently not met their concerns. A number of points have been made this evening on behalf of the Defence Police Federation and I shall be glad to cover as many as I can. Those which I do not manage to cover I shall respond to in writing, if that is acceptable.

I start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that in some way the writing is on the wall for the Ministry of Defence Police. I emphatically state that that is not the case. On current assumptions, the size of the MDP is expected to fall to between 2,500 and 3,000 personnel by the early years of the next century, probably stabilising closer to the upper than the lower end of the range. It is the Government's intention that the MDP will remain a substantial force, able to provide a civil policing service where that is required throughout the department. Ministers and the Chief Constable are confident that a force of 2,500 to 3,000, properly structured and resourced, will remain able to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked whether I had seen the Defence Police Federation paper on the pilot project. I have not seen it but shall be happy to take it into account before going ahead with our proposals. I shall ensure that I see a copy before Third Reading. The noble Lord made the point that in his view MDP officers never function wholly and solely as armed guards. It would therefore be wrong to replace civilian police officers who might come into contact with ordinary members of the public with an armed military guard. The posts at the pilot scheme sites, where it is proposed to replace MDP by the MPGS, are complemented for guarding and general security duties. It is precisely because MDP officers are not just armed guards that it makes sense in those cases to replace them with military guards. There is no reason why service personnel should not undertake those tasks; they already do so at many service

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1386

establishments throughout the United Kingdom. Where a civil policing requirement has been identified at the pilot scheme sites, the MDP will either be retained at the site for that purpose or, if the requirement is insufficient to warrant a permanent MDP presence, it will be met by MDP officers from a nearby establishment or by an MDP area policing team.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked that at the base ordnance depot in Donnington, which is one of the pilot sites, the civilian population outweighs the service population and that the MDP at Donnington do not carry out static armed guard duties. An armed guarding presence at Donnington is required to meet the threat to military personnel there. It is perfectly reasonable for MPGS soldiers to undertake the task. Civil policing requirements at Donnington will continue to be met by MDP officers complemented for those duties.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also mentioned Chilwell, where he felt that the complementing review had been rushed forward. The complementing reviews at the pilot scheme sites were brought forward to provide the Defence Police Federation with details of the numbers of posts which it is proposed should be filled by MPGS soldiers rather than MDP officers. However, there is no question of the reviews having been rushed. They have been conducted in a fully professional manner by the MoD's directorate of management and consultancy services, in consultation with the Army and the MDP and have included on-site reviews where necessary, including one of Chilwell. Using agreed complementing criteria, it has been possible to distinguish between guarding and policing tasks. I stress again that only armed guarding posts have been recommended for conversion to MPGS.

As for the suggestion that the Chilwell review increased the complement to cover a greater number of MPGS needed in comparison with the MDP--I believe the noble Lord mentioned the figure of 20 being increased to 26--it is simply untrue. The recommended complement at Chilwell is based on the identified guarding and general security requirements. All proposals for the replacement of MDP by MPGS are on a one-for-one basis. I stress that again.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about pay rates. No changes to pay rates have been assumed, subject to the Armed Forces Pay Review body agreement. An MLSE private would be paid £11,350, including 5 per cent. X factor, when the 1996-97 Armed Forces Pay Review award takes full effect in December this year. One more AFPRB award is expected before April 1997.

As regards costs which have been a concern on the Benches opposite, there have been some enhancements; for example, provision of accommodation where it is available, subject to normal payments. Recruiting and training costs have also been fully taken into account in the investment appraisal. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about pensions. Work is continuing to ensure that full engagement regulars re-engaging as MPGS guards will not be disadvantaged in their pension entitlements.

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1387

On the suggestion that the Home Department police might bear the cost of replacing MoD police with the MPGS, the MDP will be replaced on guarding duties only. So there is no question of any extra burden on the Home Department police.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about training. A soldier who had had six years' service would normally have had considerable experience of guarding. There would, however, be exceptions to that, particularly as the MPGS would be open to personnel from all three services. But, like all soldiers, MPGS personnel would be required to re-qualify once a year in firearms training. That continuation training would be the responsibility of commanding officers. It is anticipated that MPGS soldiers would be required to fire their weapons as a matter of routine on a monthly basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about reserve liability. For civilians recruited to the MPGS, the question of reserve liability has yet to be decided. It will be a matter for regulations. I hope that that has covered most of the points, but I shall be glad to deal with the remainder in writing.

I turn briefly to the text of the amendment. In my view, there is no need for the proposed new subsection (3). My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has already undertaken to submit a report in 1999 to the Defence Select Committee in another place. It will report on the outcome of the pilot scheme and on the department's proposals for any further replacement of Ministry of Defence Police by military provost guard service soldiers. When we discussed the matter in Committee, I undertook to make a similar report to your Lordships' House. I repeat that undertaking today.

There are real practical objections to the amendment. It seeks to require the Secretary of State to lay a report on the outcome of the pilot scheme within six months of the coming into force of subsection (1). That would not make any kind of sense. I imagine that the clause as a whole will come into force around two months after Royal Assent. That is the way with such things. About six months after the clause comes into effect, the pilot scheme will get under way in April 1997. With the greatest respect to noble Lords, there would not, within the six-month period, have been any opportunity to conduct a pilot scheme, even less to assess its success or to give Parliament a report on it. As I indicated, the timescale envisaged for the report is much later than that, in 1999, not out of any recalcitrance on the part of the Government but because we need that amount of time to assess definitively whether the scheme will work.

Nor do we see what useful purpose would be served by the proposed subsection (4). I am not sure that I fully understand what is intended, but if it is to require regulations enabling local service engagements to be approved by affirmative resolution it will simply lead to further debate in the autumn and further uncertainty for MDP officers over their future, as well as further delay before the pilot scheme and, if approved, the main scheme can be introduced.

We believe that the principle of using military local service engagements for guarding is sound, but this proposition needs to be tested by means of the pilot

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1388

scheme. I sensed from the debates in Committee that it seems to be common ground that there should be a pilot scheme and that the results should be reported to Parliament. We do not need this amendment to achieve that objective. Indeed, however helpfully it is intended, it will serve to frustrate the objective because it is unworkable.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page